U.S. pork exports finished the first quarter 8% higher in volume (598,058 metric tons) and 20% higher in value ($1.66 billion) than last year's record pace, according to statistics released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
At the same time, the value of beef exports for the quarter rose 4% (to $1.25 billion) on 10% lower volumes (266,388 metric tons).
March pork export volume of 198,972 metric tons was 8% lower than a year ago, but up 6% from February 2012. Export value of $570.5 million was 3% higher than last year and up 8% from the previous month. These results were led by excellent growth in the China/Hong Kong region and by strong performance in Mexico, Japan and Canada.
Beef export volume in March of 89,803 metric tons was 23% lower than last year but up 3% from February. March export value of $438.5 million was down 8% year-over-year but was 7% higher than the previous month.
"A 20% increase in pork export value for the first quarter is extraordinary, especially considering the record performance of last year," says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "On the beef side, market access issues and price sensitivity are making volume growth difficult in some markets, but we are pleased to see export value remaining above last year's record pace, even on smaller volumes."
March pork export value was particularly strong on a per-head-slaughtered basis, reaching $59.92. This was nearly $4 higher than a year ago and set a new monthly record, surpassing the previous high of $59.53 set in November 2011. Exports equated to 27.8% of total U.S. production of muscle cuts plus variety meat, and 24% when including muscle cuts only.
Mexico remains the leading market for U.S. pork on a volume basis, with first quarter exports up 17% in both volume (162,721 metric tons) and value ($299.7 million). Exports to Japan, which nearly reached the $2 billion mark in 2011, were up just 1% in volume (122,899 metric tons) but also achieved a 17% increase in value to $530.6 million. Exports to the China Hong/Kong region, which came on very strong in the second half of 2011, were 30% higher in volume in the first quarter (115,642 metric tons) and surged 82% in value to $234.9 million.
March beef export value equated to $204.65 per fed steer and heifer slaughtered, down slightly from the March 2011 total of $205.40. Beef exports accounted for 12% of total U.S. production when including both muscle cuts and variety meat, and 9% for muscle cuts only. These ratios were lower than a year ago (15% and 11%, respectively).
Despite a 13% decline in volume, Mexico remained the leading destination for U.S. beef (55,725 metric tons) and exports to Mexico managed a 5% increase in value to $250.9 million. Export volume to Canada was steady with last year at 36,834 metric tons, but 15% higher in value at $215.4 million.
In Japan, where the Food Safety Commission continues to examine BSE-related age and product restrictions on U.S. beef, exports were down 7% in volume (29,695 metric tons) but up 10% in value ($194 million). The United States continues to gain market share, as Australia's exports to Japan have fallen 14% in 2012.
"Despite a decline in export volume, prospects for U.S. beef remain positive across the globe," Seng says. "We are, for the most part, encouraged by the response to the recent BSE case. Nearly every trading partner followed established science and did not alter our level of market access."